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Pet emu Big Bird dies after 'brutal' dog attack in Halfmoon Bay

After losing their beloved family pet, the Dickesons want the owners of the two huskies to take responsibility as bylaw investigates.

Editor’s note: Please be advised that some descriptions included in this story may be disturbing to readers.

On Sunday, May 1, Dawn Dickeson was woken up by her son, Dustin, who thought wolves were attacking the family’s pet emu on their property in the Welcome Woods area of Halfmoon Bay. While Dickeson told Coast Reporter she has worried about wildlife attacking their animals – the emu, several chickens, and two chihuahuas – before, she never thought dogs would breach their fencing. 

But two huskies were found inside the enclosure, which is surrounded by seven-foot-tall fencing. 

“They were just eating her alive. There were feathers everywhere,” Dickeson said. Her plume of tail feathers had been pulled out. The dogs attacked her legs - the flightless bird’s main source of defense – and brought her down. “Once they compromised her legs, she was helpless.”

In photos taken by the family, a large, deep and bloody wound can be seen on the emu’s side. Blood covers straw on the ground around the bird. The photos posted to social media after the incident were graphic, Dickeson acknowledged, saying, “People need to see the horror of this poor, poor little bird.”

“Big Bird” was eight months old, and a recent addition to the family. While she grew to six feet tall (with her neck fully extended), they’d raised her since she was only one foot tall. Family videos show her running alongside Dickeson’s granddaughter down Halfmoon Bay trails and in their yard. She was a quirky bird, full of personality, and was gentle and sensitive, Dickeson said. They’d built an enclosure for her, and a small heated barn, where she had “the rule of the roost” over the chickens.

Dickeson said she never thought she’d bond with an emu – she hadn’t given it much thought – but grew to love Big Bird.

Dickeson and her son were able to barricade the dogs while they attended Big Bird. They called Tammy Trefry of Coastal Wildlife Rescue and Yvonne Lewis of Kitchensink Rescue Farm for help. Despite their efforts, Big Bird didn’t live through the night. 

Who do you call?

Since the incident involved a domestic animal (emus are classified as livestock), the Conservation Officer Service (COS) was not involved. COS can be called if a person “causes or allows a dog to pursue wildlife in B.C.,” conservation officer Leyland Klassen told Coast Reporter via email, because it is an offence under the Wildlife Act (although there are some exceptions for hunting purposes). Those violations should be reported to the Report All Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line at 1-877-952-7277.

Dickeson said she is in the process of filing an official complaint about dangerous dogs with the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) bylaw officers. 

Although the SCRD’s bylaw enforcement division cannot comment on an open investigation, senior bylaw officer for the SCRD Krissy Kirkpatrick said the bylaw department is aware of “allegations of previous incidents involving the two dogs involved in the Emu attack. None of these allegations have been confirmed or officially reported to the SCRD Bylaw Enforcement Division.”

She said the bylaw enforcement division takes a proactive approach and tries to educate owners to prevent future incidents. Letters, warnings, and penalties can be applied based on the situation. Impound fees will be charged to owners when a dog is picked up and taken to the SPCA. “Where necessary, more stern approaches can be taken,” Kirkpatrick said via email. “In the event that a dog has caused injury to a person or a domestic animal, a dog can be detained and held pending the outcome of a Section 49 Community Charter hearing to have a dog humanely destroyed.”

On May 4, SCRD staff told Coast Reporter the two dogs had been impounded and will be kept at the SPCA under the owner(s) claim them.

“One of the best things people can do is to report incidents when they occur.  Waiting until there have been multiple incidents to report issues can be detrimental to an investigation outcome,” Kirkpatrick said. “Reporting issues when they occur can prevent future incidents as well as establish a historical file on a dog should things escalate to a point where more action needs to be taken by an officer.”

The dog control officer will respond to complaints that report a violation of the SCRD’s dog regulation and impounding bylaw, and can be reached at 604-885-6817 or by filling out the Bylaw Complaint Form at www.scrd.ca. The public should call in case of a dog attack, aggression, barking, running at large, off-leash complaints, if a stray dog is found, an injured dog is found, a dog is seen chasing wildlife, and to enforce vicious dog provisions, among other reasons.

Dickeson wants the owners of the dogs to take responsibility and encourages people to make complaints when they see such behaviour from dogs. Dickeson is grateful her granddaughter was not there when the dogs arrived, and their other animals were unharmed. It will be up to bylaw what happens next with the dogs in question. 

“I don’t want to see any dogs dying but these dogs are dangerous and they need to be contained,” Dickeson said. 

While Dickeson has been asked by community members if they can help by fundraising for the cost of a new emu, she encourages any donations be made to wildlife sanctuaries and the volunteers who helped Big Bird.